Sunday, January 22, 2023

Review: The Stars Did Wander Darkling by Colin Meloy

by Colin Meloy
Release Date: September 13, 2022
2022 Balzer & Bray/Harperteen
Kindle Edition; 336 Pages
ISBN: 978-0063015517
ASIN: B09N9391SK
Audiobook: B09NF1Q4JN
Genre: Fiction / Juvenile / Horror
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

Maybe Archie Coomes has been watching too many horror movies.

He keeps telling himself that this is Seaham, a sleepy seaside town where nothing ever happens. Or at least nothing did, until his dad’s construction company opened up the cliff beneath the old—some say cursed—Langdon place.

Soon, though, he and his friends can’t deny it: more and more of the adults in town are acting strangely. An ancient, long-buried evil has been unleashed upon the community, and it’s up to the kids to stop it before it’s too late. . . .
My Thoughts
The Stars Did Wander Darkling is a good, fun-filled read for those who are looking for milder horror elements, but who are still looking for spooky elements. There were some nice spooky elements in this book and I definitely appreciated the 1980s nostalgia having grown up during that time period, but the long build-up and the disappointing ending as well as a meandering story line made me lose interest in what was happening and I really had to push myself to finish the book.  

First of all, I do think the atmosphere and level of creepiness were fine for this level. I loved reading horror novels at this age and would have loved more of this stuff available when I was young so I dabbled a lot in adult horror at a young age.  The author did manage to create a setting that had a lot of atmosphere that focused on family and friendships and what happens when something suddenly changes within one's world at that age. The exploration of maturity and friendship was good, and I thought the author did a good developing a bit of story line around the concept of what happens when friends discover they no longer have anything in common and start drifting apart.  Personally, I don't think he delved far enough into those themes of friendship and family.

The story line started off fairly strong and I did think it was rather interesting.  Halfway through, something changed and a lot of tropes were introduced, something I don't typically mind in a juvenile fiction book, but there were a lot of things glossed over and forgotten about as well, like injuries miraculously cured and events that weren't fully explored or explained.  It made for a disjointed reading experience and I started to lose interest in the meandering story line. Unfortunately, I didn't care for the ending as it was too neatly wrapped up without a lot of detail, details that would have enriched the reading experience. I think it is easy to underestimate the reader at that age and their quest for answers, but they can see through the gaps in the story lines quite easily and ask a million questions that were not answered in the book.

I did enjoy the characters, but they were mostly one-dimensional without a lot of development, not overly complex.  I did like how the author explored the friendships, but it is hard to really delve into those friendships if you don't really delve into character development, so I felt like the exploration was done on a superficial level so there was a lack of empathy on my part with regards to how they felt as a result.  So and so might be moving away? There should have been a bigger impact on my emotions, but I personally didn't really care.  Move on.  This is due to the writing style.

The Stars Did Wander Darkling had a great cast of characters and a good story line, but the ending is abrupt and most of the consequences to what happened were just brushed over as if nothing happened. I get that there was supposed to be some questions with regards to the ending, but all it did was leave me feeling bewildered and confused.  Overall, while I do think this was a fairly solid piece of writing with some nice horror elements within it, there were definitely things that missed their mark.


Sunday, January 15, 2023

Review: The Hollow Kind by Andy Davidson

by Andy Davidson
Release Date: October 11, 2022
2022 MCD
Kindle Edition; 448 Pages
ISBN: 978-0374538569
Audiobook: B09Q77WZSC
Genre: Fiction / Horror / Gothic
Source: Review copy from publisher

2.75 / 5 Stars

Nellie Gardner is looking for a way out of an abusive marriage when she learns that her long-lost grandfather, August Redfern, has willed her his turpentine estate. She throws everything she can think of in a bag and flees to Georgia with her eleven-year-old son, Max, in tow.

It turns out that the estate is a decrepit farmhouse on a thousand acres of old pine forest, but Nellie is thrilled about the chance for a fresh start for her and Max, and a chance for the happy home she never had. So it takes her a while to notice the strange scratching in the walls, the faint whispering at night, how the forest is eerily quiet. But Max sees what his mother can't: They're no safer here than they had been in South Carolina. In fact, things might even be worse. There's something wrong with Redfern Hill. Something lurks beneath the soil, ancient and hungry, with the power to corrupt hearts and destroy souls. It is the true legacy of Redfern Hill: a kingdom of grief and death, to which Nellie's own blood has granted her the key.
My Thoughts
The Hollow Kind definitely had an intriguing description, and I always gravitate to those stories about houses where something creepy is going on or has an evil legacy.  I also tend to like ambiguity, where you are not exactly sure what is happening, but go along just for the simple pleasure of reading a good story. But sometimes, that ambiguity can be a negative thing as this book just took for granted that you would get what happened without often giving enough descriptions of the event, then other events would go on for pages and pages.  And personally, I feel like some really important events fell within the ambiguous and glossed over sections.
The characters were okay, although none of them really had any distinct personalities, not even Nellie, I did like her character though, but preferred Max, her son, and wished the story had revolved more around him.  I didn't find the characters that difficult to keep track of, but did feel most of the secondary characters were one-dimensional and wished the author had spent a bit more time developing them so they had more distinct personalities. And character introductions were a bit of a misfire.  Suddenly, there was discussion about Agatha, and although I get it was supposed to be mysterious, the way it was thrown in didn't fit the narrative and threw me out of the story.  It was a struggle trying to piece together who she was, the role she played in the book, and how everything fit together as everything was so ambiguous.  In the end, I found her to be the most intriguing character without being give a chance to shine, if that makes sense.
While the writing style was a bit slow, I actually didn't mind the descriptive writing as gothic horror needs to be soaked up and absorbed, to really seep into your skin.  And the slower pace didn't really bother me, but the pacing was a bit much for me, as things that really needed development were glossed over and other events just dragged on and on, where I started losing interest and began skipping paragraphs and even pages.  It was laborious reading at times as events and people were just dropped as if you were aware of them; I had to re-read a couple of sections just to make sure I hadn't missed something important. There were some creepy moments in this book, and I do think Mrs. Redfern had the best story arc; I just wish the author had developed both of these more which would have added more tension, creepiness, and terror.  

The Hollow Kind had some creepy moments as well as some great potential, but the story itself suffered from pacing issues, lack of character development, and ambiguous writing tactics that made it difficult for me to be fully invested in the story.  It did redeem itself somewhat with the ending, but by then, I was struggling to finish the book, and honestly, the ending was predictable and didn't offer anything new to the genre.  Overall, I feel like this was a miss for me, but I did like the writing style, even if the pacing was off, and would like to see what the author writes next. 


Monday, January 9, 2023

Review: Such Sharp Teeth by Rachel Harrison

by Rachel Harrison
Release Date: October 4, 2022
2022 Berkley Books
Kindle Edition; 336 Pages
ISBN: 978-0593545829
Audiobook: B09S2JP43Q
Genre: Fiction / Paranormal
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

Rory Morris isn't thrilled to be moving back to her hometown, even if it is temporary. There are bad memories there. But her twin sister, Scarlett, is pregnant, estranged from the baby's father, and needs support, so Rory returns to the place she thought she'd put in her rearview. After a night out at a bar where she runs into an old almost-flame, she hits a large animal with her car. And when she gets out to investigate, she's attacked.

Rory survives, miraculously, but life begins to look and feel different. She's unnaturally strong, with an aversion to silver--and suddenly the moon has her in its thrall. She's changing into someone else--something else, maybe even a monster. But does that mean she's putting those close to her in danger? Or is embracing the wildness inside of her the key to acceptance?

My Thoughts
Such Sharp Teeth had the potential to be a really great story, but I really think it fell short of being a horror novel.  I did enjoy the changes Rory experiences as she turns into a werewolf and the horror she feels over everything that is happening, and I thought the secondary characters were interesting and well thought out, but I want my werewolves to be scary and bad, and this was definitely not it.  In fact, this read more like a paranormal romance than a horror novel.

First of all, I really liked Rory as a main character. I liked her sarcasm and witty comments as she dealt with all the changes that were happening to her body.  It made me wonder what I would have done in that situation, and she handled everything with a lot more grace and dignity than I think I would have.  However, she was turning into a werewolf. You know, a big, bad, kill people, I want meat, werewolf, So, other than the fact she was slightly concerned about the full moon and what that would entail, I was the one freaking out, wondering why she was not freaking out, considering she was living with her pregnant twin sister, knowing she would be a great meal if she suddenly turned.  And I would have been so disappointed if the big bad werewolf could distinguish between her sister and everyone else for dinner.  I mean, there should be high fear, and consequences. My pulse should have been racing. But nope. That was as far as it went. 

Except for maybe Rory's concern over what Ian, her newest love interest, may now think. And that was her big concern, that he may not want her because she couldn't have children. Wait, what? Considering big bad wolf might eat said children, probably for the best, don't you think?   Naturally, he's the perfect guy, so any issues they have will be resolved quite easily. 

I did like the subplots and themes in the book although I don't think they went far enough or explored them in enough detail.  Themes of sexual abuse and grooming were mentioned in the book, but I wasn't a fan of how they were glossed over and liked how Rory wasn't so forgiving with her mother about them despite others wanting her to just close the episode and find everlasting peace.  The lack of control over the changes that are happening when she changes into a werewolf kind of reflect the angst she has with her mother over what happened during her childhood. Interesting stuff.  

Such Sharp Teeth could have been great, but unfortunately, it went into the paranormal direction rather than in a horror direction and became more 'cutesy' than frightful.  As a horror novel, I wanted dread and suffering and terror. There was none of this. And when the wolfsbane came out, I knew it was game over.  However, I did like the characters and thought the dialogue was witty and fun. I also enjoyed the scenes where Rory transformed or had to deal with werewolf stuff as I found it interesting and comical. Notice that word, comical. Shouldn't I have been feeling dread? So, if you like a light paranormal romance read featuring a werewolf, this one is for you. As for me, I was somewhat disappointed in this book. And horror fans, if you are looking for the dread and suffering, this is not for you.


Sunday, January 8, 2023

Review: Lavender House by Lev A.C. Rosen

 by Lev A.C. Rosen
 Release Date: October 18, 2022
 2022 Forge Books
 Kindle Edition; 274 Pages
 ISBN: 978- 1250834225
 Audiobook: B09QB3YN7W
 Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Historical / LGBT
 Source: Review copy from publisher

 3 / 5 Stars

 Lavender House, 1952: the family seat of recently deceased matriarch Irene Lamontaine, head of the famous Lamontaine soap empire. Irene’s recipes for her signature scents are a well guarded secret—but it's not the only one behind these gates. This estate offers a unique freedom, where none of the residents or staff hide who they are. But to keep their secret, they've needed to keep others out. And now they're worried they're keeping a murderer in.

Irene’s widow hires Evander Mills to uncover the truth behind her mysterious death. Andy, recently fired from the San Francisco police after being caught in a raid on a gay bar, is happy to accept—his calendar is wide open. And his secret is the kind of secret the Lamontaines understand.

Andy had never imagined a world like Lavender House. He's seduced by the safety and freedom found behind its gates, where a queer family lives honestly and openly. But that honesty doesn't extend to everything, and he quickly finds himself a pawn in a family game of old money, subterfuge, and jealousy—and Irene’s death is only the beginning. 
My Thoughts
Lavender House follows Andy Mills as he accepts a private investigator job after being fired from his detective job with the local police force after being caught in a compromising position in a gay bar.  Being set in the early 50's, I was looking forward to learning more about the scene during that time period, but I found the book to be somewhat bland and conservative in its dealings, with a cast of characters that were pretty one-dimensional and a mystery that was quite predictable.  
I definitely like the setting as the idea of a group of people living together who can feel free to express themselves sexually was intriguing and I liked how they were able to keep this secret from the outside world while building up a huge soap company.  It did set up this nice in-house mystery and yes, I tend to gravitate towards those type of scenarios.  But I also want a twist to my mysteries, and this one was very predictable.  The author tried, but the twists and turns were more about isolating the main characters and relying on angst and resentment than clever plot twists that are witty and charming, along the lines of Agatha Christie or even Knives Out.  In those works, you have these eccentric detectives, and although the author tried to present Andy this way, it didn't work out.  I would have liked Andy to have found his own voice as I found him interesting.
The plot itself was fairly predictable, as I've already mentioned.  I just felt like the author wanted to delve much more into the politics of the time, but was afraid to do more than skim the surface of what was really happening during this time period, and I was a bit disappointed in this. I don't think this book was supposed to be a cozy mystery, but it gave off those vibes.  I don't necessarily think it was lack of research as the author seemed to have a pretty good grasp of things during the time period, but was maybe afraid of alienating his readers? I don't know, but I would have liked a more in-depth understanding of what it was like for people who identified as LGBT during this time period. I did appreciate the growth of the main character, Andy, as he dealt with the loss of his job and the struggles he faced with trying to figure out what to do after being fired from a job he liked and excelled; however, he never really formed any real friendships with the men with whom he worked for fear they would discover his secret and not accept him.  
Lavender House is the start of a new series, and I do think it has potential. I did find the mystery to be fairly predictable, and except for Andy, the characters were pretty much one-dimensional, but there were some moments that did grab my attention and gave me hope that the author would delve more deeply into the complexity of the LGBT community in the 1950's.  If you are looking for an okay mystery, characters who have good intentions but tend to struggle with communication issues, and you are looking for a focus on queer relationships without explicit scenes, this one may be right up your alley. However, I wanted more. I was looking for something grittier, juicier, something that had more of an emotional impact and that is why I was left feeling a bit disappointed. 

Friday, January 6, 2023

Review: Stay Awake by Megan Goldin

by Megan Goldin
Release Date: August 9, 2022
2022 St. Martin's Press
Kindle Edition; 340 Pages
ISBN: 978-1250280664
Audiobook: B09GH25Z67
Genre: Fiction / Mystery Thriller
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

Liv Reese wakes up in the back of a taxi with no idea where she is or how she got there. When she’s dropped off at the door of her brownstone, a stranger answers―a stranger who now lives in her apartment and forces her out in the cold. She reaches for her phone to call for help, only to discover it’s missing, and in its place is a bloodstained knife. That’s when she sees that her hands are covered in black pen, scribbled messages like graffiti on her skin: STAY AWAKE.

Two years ago, Liv was living with her best friend, dating a new man, and thriving as a successful writer for a trendy magazine. Now, she’s lost and disoriented in a New York City that looks nothing like what she remembers. Catching a glimpse of the local news, she’s horrified to see reports of a crime scene where the victim’s blood has been used to scrawl a message across a window, the same message that’s inked on her hands. What did she do last night? And why does she remember nothing from the past two years? 
My Thoughts
Stay Awake had a premise that was definitely entertaining as well as intriguing; a woman wakes up in a taxi with no idea who she is, how she got there, and in her possession is a bloodstained knife. Definitely got my attention.  And then she notices she has written notes to herself on her hands to "Stay Awake", all very cryptic. So, definitely an interesting start to a novel, and my brain was already heading in a million different directions (I definitely read too much horror, fantasy, and science-fiction) as what happened didn't quite conclude the way that I thought. Is that a bad thing necessarily? No, not really, but it didn't really deliver either. 

The main character is where the story fell short for me. Most of it revolved around Liv, and while I get that she was terrified and afraid to trust people, you would think that in those moments when she was capable of writing messages to herself, she would also be able to write messages of whom to trust as well? And maybe tell herself what is going on? At first I was sympathetic to her situation. Who wouldn't? She was confused, scared, missing several years of her life, unsure of what was happening, worried she may have done something awful, and then news comes down the pipe about something awful.  But for someone who was supposed to be so smart, she didn't really ask a lot of questions about what was happening, and after a while, I got tired of her antics and started losing empathy.  And this is also where the plot goes somewhat sideways at the same time.

The plot was pretty intriguing at first as I didn't really know what was going on.  I had my suspicions, but they were way off, again a product of reading too much horror and sci-fi, but we won't go down that road. While Liv was the main character, there were other POV and other timelines involved, and this is where I had a problem due to the repetitiveness of the the story lines. I did enjoy the detective work by Halliday and Lavelle and thought they showed the most sense when it came to the case as they looked at the clues rather closely and followed up on them.  Out of all the people in the story, they seemed to be the only ones to actually ask anything that was relevant, and I don't recall rolling my eyes once during their scenes.  Oh, and thank goodness there was no romance between the detectives.  

I did think the pace was a bit disjointed, especially towards the middle half of the book, and I wasn't a big fan of the conclusion, but I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that I had little sympathy for the main character by that point. I also thought the killer's motivation was a bit on the thin side.

Stay Awake was both intriguing and frustrating. I did find the premise compelling and I was rooting for Liv despite wanting to bash my head against the wall anytime she made a poor decision.  The story line was somewhat repetitive, with Liv just doing the same thing over and over again, and many of the secondary characters were poorly developed, none of whom asked questions or seemed to want to help Liv with her situation.  Overall, there was a lot that was commendable and I was definitely glued to the book for the first half so I can see why this author is so popular. Unfortunately, the book did lose me halfway through, and I had to push to finish it to a somewhat disappointing ending.  That being said, there was enough of interest in it to make me want to read another book by this author. 


Wednesday, January 4, 2023

Review: Quarter to Midnight by Karen Rose

by Karen Rose
Release Date: August 2, 2022
2022 Berkley Books
Kindle Books: 594 Pages
ISBN: 978-0593336298
Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Romantic Suspense
Source: Review copy from publisher
3.75 / 5 Stars
Gabe Hebert saw the toll that working for the NOPD took on his dad and decided instead to make a name for himself as one of the best young chefs in the French Quarter. But when his father's death is ruled a suicide after a deliberately botched investigation by his former captain, Gabe knows his dad stumbled onto a truth that someone wants silenced.

Gabe goes to his father's best friend, Burke, for help. Burke assigns the toughest member of his team, Molly, to the case. Molly can't believe she's being asked to work with the smoking hot chef whose chocolate cake is not the only thing that makes her mouth water. Sparks fly as they follow the leads Gabe's dad left them, unraveling a web of crimes, corruption, and murder that runs all the way to the top.
My Thoughts
Quarter to Midnight was an amusing contemporary romantic suspense romp through New Orleans. There was danger, a lot of action, secrets and betrayals, romance, and suspense, all thrown into one long week of hell for our heroes. However fun this was, it was still too long and I think it could have been shortened up as some parts of it dragged on and interfered with the suspense and tension.
First of all, I did enjoy the diverse set of characters in this book.  I like how Gabe and Molly are attracted to each other, but want to keep all of their dealings professional, so when Molly is hired to help Gabe solve his father's death, you learn more about them as people rather than just jump into the romantic side of things.  Gabe is a local celebrity so trying to do her job was quite difficult for Molly, and it was fun watching her navigate that whole minefield trying to keep him safe. Most of the characters though, were quite likeable and I enjoyed them for different reasons. I thought the author did a great job giving them distinct voices so you could keep them straight. However, no matter how much I wish otherwise, I didn't feel any chemistry between Molly and Gabe, none. Felt forced.

I thought the plot was interesting, but there was nothing really new to it. The themes of dirty cops has been around for a while so it was just a matter of waiting to see who else would be involved. Unfortunately, the many and varied POV created a problem with the tension and the secrecy, creating a disjointed story line that did impact the overall suspense of the story as well as gave away the identity of the top culprit which irked me quite a bit.  And then there was the body count, so high. I just couldn't believe that that many people would disappear, or that many people would die around a certain someone, and no one else would be suspicious?  The book was long for a romantic suspense novel, and while this slow-burn thriller has some great moments, I do think it has some moments that could have been edited out to enable a faster pace and keep the tension going.  

Quarter to Midnight has good character development and overall, I thought the story was fun. I did find the plot to be predictable under all of that drawn-out character development and action, and think the book is way too long with too many bodies that were overlooked without explanation as if people going missing are unimportant, or readers won't pay attention to such details.  This is really a mystery with a forced romantic suspense thrown in between the two main characters simply because the genre is labelled romantic suspense.  When you separate it all, it looks really good, when you put it all together, something was missing and it just became ok. I think if you are looking for a half decent mystery that is somewhat predictable, but has good character development, you will enjoy this, but if you are looking for steamy romance, pass. 


Review: Lute by Jennifer Thorne

by Jennifer Marie Thorne
Release Date: October 4, 2022
2022 Tor Nightfire
Kindle Edition; 274 Pages
ISBN: 978-1250826084
Genre:Fiction / Horror 
Source: Review copy from publisher

2.5 / 5 Stars

Lute and its inhabitants are blessed, year after year, with good weather, good health, and good fortune. They live a happy, superior life, untouched by the war that rages all around them. So it’s only fair that every seven years, on the day of the tithe, the island’s gift is honored.

Nina Treadway is new to The Day. A Florida girl by birth, she became a Lady through her marriage to Lord Treadway, whose family has long protected the island. Nina’s heard about The Day, of course. Heard about the horrific tragedies, the lives lost, but she doesn’t believe in it. It's all superstitious nonsense. Stories told to keep newcomers at bay and youngsters in line.

Then The Day begins.
My Thoughts
Lute is one of those books that I really wanted to like more than I did, but I just struggled to get into it as I found the characters to be lacklustre. I think the marketing team did a disservice to the book as well as they gave away too much information about the book in its description leaving no room for the reader to figure out any secret in the story thus reducing any subtle build up that you would experience while reading.  

First of all, my favourite character was Matthew, the lighthouse keeper, who kept to himself, and seemed to have this big secret.  He seemed to dislike Nina which immediately put him in my good graces and I wanted to know why.  Plus, like I said, he seemed to have a secret, something that I found intriguing as no one else seemed to have one.  Unfortunately, I just wasn't invested in the other characters, including Nina. And here's why. For seven years she's lived on this island and heard about the Day and how it brings prosperity, but has also heard about the tragedies and doesn't question a thing about it? She just went along with it for almost seven years, clueless, subservient to her husband and his whims, and suddenly she wants to grow a pair and confront him? Nope, didn't work for me at all. To be honest, while I wasn't a fan of the husband and his sudden abusive tendencies, I did appreciate his growing obsession with getting off the island and the reasons for doing so. Plus, I think I am nosy and would have wanted to learn all the superstitions about my new home as I would have found them intriguing. Overall, I just didn't feel much empathy for the characters as I didn't think they were well-written and their personalities were all over the place, written for convenience rather than growth.
I was initially intrigued by the folk lore elements in the story and definitely felt the Final Destination elements in this story, (having just watched the first film in over a decade) and appreciate the random selection of victims which should have made it that much more creepy and tense.  Unfortunately, by the time the events started happening, I hadn't developed any empathy with any of the characters so I didn't really care who died or who didn't.  It just became a predictable story line, with Nina at the center to save the day, naturally being the only person in a millenia who can figure out what the island needs. 

The plot has this weird war going on, and it took me a couple of chapters to understand it wasn't WWII as they were using current technology. I didn't really understand the purpose of the war as it didn't have a relevance to the plot other than make Nina, an American, an enemy? I don't know, but it was silly.  Watching Nina interact with the townspeople after realizing she was stuck on the island was a highlight simply because I was curious about the people who were left, not because I developed an interest in Nina. Her complete lack of curiosity in anyone and anything actually drove me nuts from the first page as I just couldn't relate.  And there's the completely unbelievable romance that happens in the middle of the books. What? 
Lute is one of those books that simply didn't work for me. The concept was intriguing and I loved the idea of a story intertwined with folk lore, but there were a lot of inconsistencies within the plot and the characters lacked development.  And while a slow burn doesn't typically bother me, it never really stepped up to that level of tenseness and creepiness that would have made the reading experience interesting and exciting.  However, I would read another novel by this author as I am curious to see what she will do next, but I found this one to be predictable and flat.

Monday, January 2, 2023

Review: The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman

by Richard Osman
Release Date: September 1st, 2021
2021 Penguin
Kindle Edition; 422 Pages
ISBN: 978-0241425428
Audiobook: B08ZJVVB55
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher
3 / 5 Stars
Elizabeth has received a letter from an old colleague, a man with whom she has a long history. He's made a big mistake, and he needs her help. His story involves stolen diamonds, a violent mobster, and a very real threat to his life.

As bodies start piling up, Elizabeth enlists Joyce, Ibrahim and Ron in the hunt for a ruthless murderer. And if they find the diamonds too? Well, wouldn't that be a bonus?

But this time they are up against an enemy who wouldn't bat an eyelid at knocking off four septuagenarians. Can The Thursday Murder Club find the killer (and the diamonds) before the killer finds them?
My Thoughts
The Man Who Died Twice is the second book in the Thursday Murder Club series, and I thought it was highly entertaining.. A clever murder mystery featuring retired professionals in a variety of fields, I loved how it parodied our cultural biases regarding the elderly and their usefulness in society.  A blend of humour and some very serious issues regarding aging made this second instalment a lot of fun.
The story is very much character-driven, but was done in such a way as to continue the secrecy of what some of the characters actually did before they retired.  On the outside, Elizabeth was a spy, Joyce a nurse, Ibrahim a psychologist, and Ron a union organizer, but as the threads unwind, you learn they were involved in so much more.  And I thought this was cleverly done by the author as I kept reading to find out more about the characters and their past histories, especially Joyce who confounds me.  It was quite easy to figure out Elizabeth although we are learning only a bit about her, but I really feel like it's Joyce who has the big secret and is being overlooked in a clever way.  All of the characters are very well-written and I enjoyed their banter, both with regards to the mystery as well as to the tongue-in-cheek comments about growing older. 
But while I did enjoy the character development, I did think the mystery was a bit weak, which is why I gave it the rating that I did.  When a book is so character-driven, sometimes the plot sinks too much in the background and this is exactly what happened. It tried to be too clever, with a lot of banter between the characters, and thus, the mystery got lost in there somewhere.   I did feel like the whole narrative was executed much better in this instalment as the author tended to focus more on the main characters rather than all of the characters in the story, such as Chris and Donna, which is how it should be, but there were still some pacing issues and it took a while for the main mystery to really get going. 
I did appreciate a larger focus on the themes of dementia, PTSD, loneliness, and the difficulties of growing older in a society that seems to devalue the elderly and their contributions.  There are some sharp criticisms of our society revolving these issues and I am glad to see them there as they need to be discussed, especially with a growing older population in many countries.
The Man Who Died Twice was a fun entry into this series, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. Although there were some pacing issues and I felt the mystery was predictable, I did like the character development and thought the way the author incorporated issues into the plot was quite clever.  I am looking forward to many more books in this series; I have already read the third book, and am looking forward to the fourth book when it is released next September.